The menu at Rosario's Italian Kitchen covers everything from fried shrimp to breakfast all day, but as the restaurant's name implies, for many, dinner time here means Italian. And at this friendly Rosedale spot that opened in 2012, those Italian dinners are very good.
Scene & Decor The restaurant is open nearly around the clock — from 7 a.m. until 4 a.m. every day. Those hours and the menu's dizzying array of options scream "diner." Rosario's is mostly casual but its warm decor and professional service elevate it above diner level.
On a recent Thursday just before seven, only a handful of tables in Rosario's large dining room were filled, though some were set, complete with cloths and flowers, and marked with "reserved" signs. It was high school graduation season, and Rosario's would be a good spot for a celebratory family meal.
Appetizer We started dinner with warm breadsticks (no charge). They were the white, fluffy kind that are shiny from butter and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and they came with a big bowl of chunky marinara for dipping.
A trio of stuffed mushrooms ($11.99) came overflowing with crab imperial. Both the mushroom and the crab were well-seasoned.
The imperial was gooey and buttery in the best way. We were impressed with the generosity of the imperial, but we found ourselves wishing for a little more mushroom. We'll never say no to crab imperial, but it's best when it has a less flashy flavor, like earthy mushroom, as a base.
Entrees After sneaking a few glances at the tables around us, we opted to stick with Italian for dinner; it's what everyone else in the place ordered. And with good reason: The three classic pasta dishes we tried were good ones.
Simple spaghetti and meatballs ($10.99) is often a quick way to gauge an Italian restaurant's hand with the classics. Rosario's passed our test, with chunky, bright sauce and meatballs that were soft, well-seasoned and cooked correctly.
Tortellini alla fini ($11.99) — cheese tortellini with ham, peas and mushrooms in cream sauce — was satisfying and rich, but better with a small shake of salt. The combination of vegetables and ham gave the dish heft, texture and a well-balanced mix of sweet and meaty.
Lobster ravioli ($17.99) differed slightly from what was advertised on the menu, but we preferred the version we got to the one described. Instead of marinara, the ravioli was dressed in rose sauce; we were also surprised by a sprinkle of crabmeat on top. The crab, as it turned out, might have actually been superfluous, as the sauce was the highlight. We loved its balance of creamy and acidic and its spot-on seasoning.
Drinks Rosario's wine list covers the usual bases, plus the restaurant offers a variety of well-priced Italian wines by the glass. They were out of our first choice, the Caldora Montepulciano, so we opted for the Mont'arquato, a mix of cabernet and barbera ($7 per glass and $24 per bottle).
The menu aptly described the wine as well-balanced and fruity; it stood up well to all three sauces. With likable flavor and a positively enormous pour, the Mont'arquato made us smile. It was much better than we thought a huge seven dollar glass of wine could be.
Dessert Without fail, the sight of a well-stocked dessert case turns us into hungry kids, and Rosario's case is packed with lovely offerings created both in-house and by Yia Yia's Bakery.
The Smith Island cake ($3.99), yellow cake with layers of chocolate frosting, topped with chocolate swirls, was more dramatically decorated than the most traditional versions of the cake, but it was just as moist and sweet.
Service When we arrived, our waitress was busy with another table, so the manager who seated us also took care of drink orders and made sure we had everything we needed. Throughout the meal, we saw him work in tandem with the two servers handling the room.
Both the manager and waitress were friendly and helpful; the food was timed well out of the kitchen, too.
We were even more impressed with the kitchen's timing when we left. As we exited the parking lot, we realized that not only was Rosario's kitchen feeding the diners inside, it was also doing a brisk carry-out business, handled at a drive-through window.
We're intrigued by the drive-through, though if we're heading to Rosario's, we'll probably go inside. We wouldn't want to miss the staff's friendly faces — or the swoon-worthy glasses of wine.
Rosario's Italian Kitchen
Back story: Opened in Rosedale in 2012, Rosario's Italian Kitchen is a neighborhood restaurant serving Italian specialties, as well as a full range of diner-esque food (including breakfast all day). Owner George Protopapas has been in the local restaurant business for decades; he also owns Valentino's Restaurant on Harford Road and Italiano's Restaurant on Washington Boulevard.
Parking: Lot on side
Signature dish: Lobster ravioli, swimming in rose sauce and topped with crab, was well-seasoned, light and satisfying.
Where: 7301 Pulaski Highway, Rosedale
Contact: 410-866-6181; rosariosbaltimore.com
Open: 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Friendly service and well-executed takes on Italian classics make Rosario's a promising Italian go-to in Baltimore CountyCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun